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Gmail Changes Have Email Marketers Worried

Sep 6, 2013   |   4 min read

Knowledge Center  ❯   Blog

gmail changes email marketers worryWhen it comes to email deliverability, new twists continue to crop up, keeping email marketers on their toes. The new tabbed format of Gmail’s Inbox is one such development. It’s a big change that has many email marketers wringing their hands with worry.

“The word on the street is that business owners and marketers are worried about this new layout,” says Matthew Billings of MailChimp. Likewise, Kyle Stock on notes that, while Gmail’s changes may be welcomed by users, companies sending the emails “are less than thrilled with the change.” Christopher Zara of the International Business Times reports that Google’s new inbox has sparked “panic” in the email-reliant nonprofit sector.

In overhauling its user interface, Gmail took the Inbox and split it into five parts-Primary, Social, Promotions, Forums and Updates. The danger that worries email marketers is that emails that arrive in the Promotions tab will ignored by recipients.

As Stephanie Meyers of Inc. reports, “Thanks to Gmail’s new tabs, promotional emails are now shunted off to a secondary inbox. If you rely on email marketing, you should be worried.”

To add to the worries, the format of the ads that appear in Gmail is also changing, with ads at the top of the Promotions tab having the look of emails. Thus, promotional emails will face even stiffer competition for readers’ attention.

As HubSpot’s Ginny Soskey explains, while you’re competing with fewer messages overall in the Promotions tab, you’ll most likely have more content to compete against because of the way Gmail’s new ads are being displayed.

Drop in Open Rates Seen

Since Gmail’s new design debuted in June, some email services have seen open rates for promotional emails decline around 1 percent for desktop PCs. Yesmail and MailChimp reported 1 percent drops, while return Path found a 0.5 percent drop for desktop users. Responsys saw a 0.2 percent drop, while ExactTarget said it detected no change in open or click-through rates. Gmail’s split Inbox changes do not apply to smart phones, which still receive mail in one main inbox.

The prevailing attitude among email service providers is that while the percentage drops in open rates do not appear to be drastic, it is too soon to tell. Constant Contact CEO Gail Goodman says the small movement downward is “nothing alarming,” while Matthew Billings of MailChimp says the drop was not enough to “declare an emergency.”

Goodman insists she believes it is too soon, in terms of both the rollout and Gmail users adapting, to identify any long-term patterns. “Our advice,” Goodman says, “is don’t panic.”

Likewise, ExactTarget advises email marketers to “keep calm, keep close watch and be prepared to make changes to marketing programs or content in the future, if warranted.”

Jason Warnock, VP of market intelligence at Yesmail, also sees little reason to panic. “With what we’re seeing right now, it’s not a game changer,” adding that the next two months will provide more information by which to judge.

Julie Niehoff of Constant Contact also says it’s best not to overact to the change. “This is not the time to change your marketing strategy,” Niehoff says. “It’s too early to tell.”

Christopher Zara of IB Times voices a little more concern. Although email service providers do not see the 1 percent drop as worrisome, he says, “it’s still significant considering that the new inboxes haven’t even been rolled out to every Gmail user.” For email marketers who send large volumes of messages, a 1 percent drop in open rates may be a seen as a problem.

Positive Outlook

Some observers, meanwhile, see Gmail’s redesign as a positive development. Among them is AWeber’s Amanda Gagnon, who thinks the Promotions Tab “could be your best friend.” Because your emails will land among fewer contemporaries, this means less chance of mass-deletion, as well as a higher chance of grabbing attention, says Gagnon. When people feel like checking out deals, they’ll explore your promotions and be receptive, she adds.

Of similar mind is Goodman who believes the new tabbing structure could ultimately result in “drawing consumers to promotions in a different pattern than they’re doing today.” Rather than getting lost between personal emails, the tab system might allow users to deliberately look for promotions at a time that’s more convenient for them, she explained.

Kevin Senne of Responsys said his company was encouraged by the early numbers and recommended that email marketers embrace Gmail’s changes as “great for their business.”

Taylor Lindstrom of Men with Pens also believes Gmail’s new Tabs are beneficial for Internet marketers. Users will read the same amount of promotional emails in the new Gmail tabs format as they did in the old format, says Lindstrom, but the new format will cause people to read more emails from senders they want to hear from. The onus is on marketers to make their communications welcome.

“If you want your customers to perceive your emails as belonging to the Primary tab or the Social tab, start making them more primary or sociable,” he advises. “If you want your readers to put your emails in a tab they’ll actually read, make them better reading material.”

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